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James Turrell’s most ambitious work is set to open after 45 years

A new partnership–and a $10 million donation from Kanye West–aim to see Turrell’s masterwork expanded and opened within the next five years.

James Turrell’s most ambitious work is set to open after 45 years
James Turrell [Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images/LACMA]

In the early 1970s, a young James Turrell spent the night in the bowl of an extinct volcano in Arizona. Nearly half a million years before, an eruption had blasted the cone of the volcano off, creating a three-mile-wide crater that Turrell, then in his 30s, set about buying and turning into a sweeping celestial observatory organized around a series of processional pathways, rooms, and installations through the crater’s face.

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Roden Crater has been under varying degrees of construction in the 45 years since; the Center for Land Use Interpretation has called it “perhaps the most elaborate, anticipated, and delayed land art project in the nation.” In the time since, Turrell has become one of the most respected and well-known artists on the planet, completing dozens of other installations, but Roden Crater has remained a work in progress. Only a small group of people have experienced the crater over the years–some of whom paid thousands of dollars to visit, and some of whom found, um, other ways of reaching the site.

 

Now, fundraising and construction on the site is kicking into a higher gear. A series of partnerships first detailed by the Wall Street Journal this week aims not only to expand the scope of the once-secretive project with a new master plan, but to see parts of it open to the public within the next few years.

The nonprofit fundraising group behind Roden, the Skystone Foundation, is partnering with Arizona State University and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, according to the paper. The coalition will raise some $200 million to complete a new master plan, which details a restaurant, a visitor’s center, rentable cabins, and something called a “light-spa,” as Jay Cheshes reports:

A series of water-filled chambers are coming, fed by underground wells. One 8-foot-deep pool will reflect every sunrise. In a light-spa complex, bathers will dive under a barrier, emerging outdoors looking out across the horizon. In the fumarole, the volcano’s secondary vent, Turrell imagines a brass bath where transducers hooked to a radio telescope will broadcast the sounds of passing planets and the Milky Way underwater. In another space a visitor will sometimes be able to see his or her shadow with the light of Venus. An amphitheater is on the drawing boards too, as well as a wine cellar.

Since the paper’s story was published, Kanye West made a $10 million donation to the project (West visited the site in December, he tweeted). Meanwhile, ASU explains in an announcement that a $2 million grant is helping the school develop an interdisciplinary program of field classes focused on the crater, ranging from design curricula to geology and astronomy.

That includes academic programming focused on indigenous history and science in the area. One class currently being taught in the field, Indigenous Stories and Sky Science, is led by architect Wanda Dalla Costa, a member of the Saddle Lake First Nation, according to ASU Now. She’ll be working with nearby Hopi and Navajo professors and experts who, Costa said in a release, “will help us navigate and mediate those sensitive cultural-knowledge boundaries, because it’s really important for me to get this right. We’ll ask ourselves, ‘Whose story is this, and how do we make it have value for the community?'”

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The artist has spent nearly his entire career working to build the project–from earning money to buy up the land around the crater to preserve the dark sky, to using his other works to test ideas he has for the crater, as the WSJ notes. The new coalition is meant to make the final fundraising push to ready the site for a public opening. But it also, seemingly, is meant to plan for its long-term preservation.

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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